The Best Value Contract on Every NBA Roster
The NBA is a star-driven league.
Over the course of its history, the majority of champions have had at least one top-five or top-10 player. Often, they have more than one superstar. Those players' contracts are generally pretty expensive, and they take up a decent chunk of the annual salary cap.
So, when filling out a roster, it's important to also have players who are outperforming their salary. Value in one or two rotation players can make a world of difference.
In determining the best value contract on each of the league's 30 teams, there were only two hard-and-fast rules:
- No players on first-round rookie-scale contracts.
- No one who is making more than double the league-average salary ($7.7 million) in 2019-20.
With those parameters in place, here are the selections for the best value contracts on every NBA roster.
Atlanta Hawks: Dewayne Dedmon
Contract: $13.3 million per year through 2021-22
There is no question 2019-20 was a down year for Dewayne Dedmon, but he came into this season as one of the game's truly versatile centers.
And now that he's back with the Atlanta Hawks after a disastrous and brief stint with the Sacramento Kings, he should be an effective reserve as part of a three-big rotation that includes Clint Capela and John Collins.
With Capela's offensive game mostly confined to rim-rolling, offensive rebounds and dunks, Dedmon gives the Hawks a floor-spacer who can allow them to run five-out possessions around Trae Young.
Boston Celtics: Daniel Theis
Contract: $5 million per year through 2020-21
The decision here came down to Daniel Theis and Marcus Smart, both of whom are outperforming their annual salaries. But Theis is making less than half of what Smart is, starts at the 5 and leads the combo guard in both net rating swing and box plus/minus.
Theis is a big reason the Boston Celtics have sneakily been ahead of the curve on positionless basketball. Playing three similarly sized wings in Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward obviously points to that, but Theis is only 6'8" himself.
Boston can trust him when he's switched onto wings and guards. And over the course of his career, he's hit 34.0 percent of his three-point attempts, which is just enough to force his defenders to creep out of the paint when he spots up.
Brooklyn Nets: Spencer Dinwiddie
Contract: $11.4 million per year through 2021-22 (last year is a player option)
With Kyrie Irving missing most of the season with injuries and D'Angelo Russell dispatched to the Western Conference, Spencer Dinwiddie assumed the lead ball-handler duties for the Brooklyn Nets, and he didn't disappoint.
Dinwiddie is averaging 20.6 points and 6.8 assists, and Brooklyn is scoring 9.3 more points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, giving him an offensive rating swing that ranks in the 97th percentile.
This season, he's been tasked with scoring, but he knows he may be more of a distributor going forward, as he told NetsDaily:
"With Kyrie and [Kevin Durant], if you're telling me I get to come out here and pass to two phenomenal scorers and get 10 assists a game and maybe be in second gear a lot of times with my scoring, I'm fine. If I average 14 and 10 and we win a title, but KD averages 35 and Ky averages 25 or whatever it would be, like, I'm good with that."
Beyond his salary, Dinwiddie's willingness to adapt to whatever role comes his way makes him an easy player to build around.
Charlotte Hornets: Devonte' Graham
Contract: $1.5 million per year through 2020-21
One of the season's biggest surprises, Devonte' Graham went from a second-round pick in 2018 to 4.7 points per game as a rookie to 18.2 points per game in his second NBA campaign.
He led the Charlotte Hornets in points, assists, threes, free throws and steals per game. He was 10th on the 2019-20 squad in salary.
Of course, the Hornets weren't able to leverage Graham's production into a playoff appearance. And with his contract expiring after next season, he may not be quite the bargain he is now when (or if) the Hornets are good again.
But finding your unquestionable leader in the second round and having him produce as such while remaining one of your lowest-paid players is an organizational win.
Graham is likely to get a W of his own when he negotiates his next contract.
Chicago Bulls: Tomas Satoransky
Contract: $10 million per year through 2021-22
Tomas Satoransky's stock rose steadily through 2017-18 and 2018-19, which led to a three-year, $30 million deal with the Chicago Bulls. And though his numbers this season indicate a slight step back, it's still easy to see why the Bulls wanted to pair him with a ball-dominant 2 like Zach LaVine.
For his career, Satoransky is a 36.9 percent three-point shooter. His 6.6 assists per 75 possessions since the start of 2017-18 are tied for 35th in the league over that span. Chicago doesn't necessarily need a scorer at the point, so Satoransky's ability to space the floor and keep the ball moving makes him a good fit.
It also doesn't hurt that he's 6'7". Not many would point to him as an example of a lockdown defender, but just having that size opens up switching possibilities that wouldn't otherwise be there.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Larry Nance
Contract: $11.2 million per year through 2022-23
Larry Nance Jr. was the fourth-highest-paid Cleveland Cavalier this season (if you count the salary of recently acquired Andre Drummond), but he led the team in win shares and had another statistically versatile campaign in 2019-20.
This season, Nance averaged 10.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.4 threes and 1.4 steals per 75 possessions. No one in the league matched or exceeded all four marks. Take out the steals qualifier and the group includes only Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid, Kevin Love, Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Vucevic.
Nance's profile likely won't reach the level of most of the stars listed there, but those wide-ranging contributions are part of why he's never had a negative net rating swing.
Dallas Mavericks: Dwight Powell
Contract: $10.8 million per year through 2022-23
The addition of Kristaps Porzingis (in many ways, a supersized shooting guard) and the presence of Luka Doncic (a James Harden-esque ball-handler) have forced head coach Rick Carlisle to adjust his offensive approach.
Sometimes, coaches just have to get out of the way and let the stars go to work.
But Dwight Powell, at least until his season-ending Achilles injury, served as the prototypical rim-roller who was a hallmark of Carlisle's attacks for years.
This season, Powell averaged 9.4 points on just 5.7 field-goal attempts per game. The vertical pressure he put on the rim forced defenses to collapse, giving precious extra seconds to the shooters outside.
The impact was clear. Dallas' net points per 100 possessions were 5.3 better with Powell on the floor.
Of course, the remainder of his contract now has the dreaded Achilles tear hanging over it. And if that adversely affects his athleticism, the attribute that set Powell apart, this contract may not be quite as valuable.
But if he even comes back to 85-90 percent of the player he was, he will be a nice change-of-pace 5 in Doncic-led offenses for years to come.
Denver Nuggets: Monte Morris
Contract: $1.6 million per year through 2020-21
The Denver Nuggets' Monte Morris may be the quintessential backup 1. He can ably engineer offensive possessions, play alongside the starter (Jamal Murray) and hit open threes (39.8 career three-point percentage), and he almost never makes mistakes.
Among the 232 players with at least as high a usage percentage as Morris has posted over the last two seasons, his 7.2 turnover percentage is tied with Klay Thompson and Luke Kornet for the lowest mark in the league. And what makes that number even more impressive is that his assist percentage (22.3) is more than the combination of Thompson's and Kornet's.
Morris isn't just running around as a catch-and-shoot threat or a guard who's afraid to actually make any plays. He just plays with an awareness few others possess, and having a guard that steady off the bench is part of what has made the Nuggets so dangerous over the last two years.
Over that stretch, Denver's net rating has been a whopping 10.6 when Morris shares the floor with Murray and Nikola Jokic.
Detroit Pistons: Derrick Rose
Contract: $7.5 million per year through 2020-21
Christian Wood may seem like the obvious choice here, but since the Detroit Pistons' season is over and he's headed to free agency, there's a chance he's done providing value to this team.
Instead, Derrick Rose gets the nod. The 4.0 offensive box plus/minus he posted this season is the third-highest mark of his career, as well as his highest since 2011-12.
And his playing time-adjusted and pace-adjusted stats are eerily similar to those from his 2010-11 MVP campaign.
If he isn't traded this offseason, Rose could very well lead the Pistons in scoring for a second straight season. And at just $7.7 million, that'll be a heck of a value.
Golden State Warriors: Kevon Looney
Contract: $4.8 million per year through 2021-22 (last year is a player option)
The Golden State Warriors' books are interesting. This season, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green made $40.2 million, $32.7 million, $27.5 million and $18.5 million, respectively. Those four salaries already have the team well above the 2019-20 salary cap.
By necessity, just about any other solid role player on the team would have to be on a value contract. And most of the younger players on the team have yet to prove themselves worthy of that distinction.
Kevon Looney, who missed most of the season with injuries, has proved himself.
In 2018-19, Golden State's net rating was 6.4 points per 100 possessions better with Looney on the floor, and there were only seven players in the league who matched or exceeded his averages for rebounds, assists, blocks and steals per 75 possessions.
As the Warriors emerge from what they hope was a gap year in 2019-20, Looney's versatility at the 5 will be crucial, especially since there is almost no flexibility with which to adjust the roster.
Houston Rockets: Robert Covington
Contract: $12.1 million per year through 2021-22
Robert Covington has been one of the game's more versatile defenders for years, but his recent acquisition by the Houston Rockets may lead to his true calling: a micro-ball 5.
Over the course of the 14 games he played with Houston this season, Covington was classified as the center for 83 percent of his possessions. And he totaled 35 blocks in just 456 minutes (2.8 per 36 minutes).
As a three-and-D center, Covington can space the floor as a spot-up threat on the outside when Russell Westbrook or James Harden drives, while also being able to protect the rim on the other end.
He's obviously not quite as imposing as Clint Capela was on defense, but the perfect fit on offense likely makes up for that.
Indiana Pacers: Justin Holiday
Contract: $4.8 million per year through 2019-20
His basic numbers may not leap off the screen, but durability for a team that was rocked by injuries, a willingness and ability to guard multiple positions and a deadeye 42.4 three-point percentage have made him work well with most Indiana lineups.
That's been particularly true when Holiday has shared the floor with All-Star point center Domantas Sabonis. In those situations, the Pacers are plus-7.5 points per 100 possessions (90th percentile).
Los Angeles Clippers: Patrick Beverley
Contract: $13.3 million per year through 2021-22
Once you get past the big deals for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers' roster is replete with good options.
Marcus Morris Sr. and Ivica Zubac are both on decent value deals. Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell have contracts that are pretty much steals.
But Beverley takes the cake here because of how perfectly he fits with everyone on the team.
Among Clippers with at least 500 minutes, Beverley's net rating swing trails only Kawhi's. And whether he's sharing the floor with him, PG, Harrell or Williams, Beverley is always willing to be the one who does the dirty work on defense while standing back on offense.
That's not because he isn't a capable offensive player. Over the course of his career, he's hit 38.0 percent of his three-point attempts.
It's because Beverley isn't afraid of the "role player" distinction. Instead, he magnifies it.
Los Angeles Lakers: Alex Caruso
Contract: $2.8 million per year through 2020-21
From one L.A. glue guy to another.
Alex Caruso is one of the Los Angeles Lakers' best defensive guards. And when he shares the floor with LeBron James, the team looks like a juggernaut.
The connection they have on the floor is obvious on both ends, and the young guard talked about that on ESPN's The Lowe Post Show:
"People talk about our plus-minus and connection on the court, and over the last year or so, our relationship has gotten good to where I can ask him anything, and he trusts that I'm going to be able to do whatever it is that needs to be done. I think that's the biggest thing with 'Bron, is just earning his trust so he knows what he's going to get out of you and he can count on that."
It's not hard to see why LeBron trusts Caruso. Like Beverley, he's willing to attack whatever defensive assignment comes his way. He doesn't demand touches on offense, but when the ball does come his way, he generally does good things.
Memphis Grizzlies: De'Anthony Melton
Contract: $1.4 million per year through 2019-20
Over the last two seasons, De'Anthony Melton's 2.4 steals per 75 possessions trail only Matisse Thybulle and Dejounte Murray.
Though steals aren't always an indicator of great defense, in this case, they are. Melton is a defensive ace whose willingness to cover either guard position makes life easier for both Ja Morant and Tyus Jones.
One of the biggest reasons for the positive impact is the team's ability to get out in transition when the ballhawk is on the floor. Melton's offensive rating swing ranks in the 95th percentile, and his boost to transition frequency ranks in the 90th.
Miami Heat: Duncan Robinson
Contract: $1.5 million per year through 2020-21
After going undrafted, Duncan Robinson averaged 3.3 points in 15 appearances as a rookie in 2018-19. One season later, he's become perhaps the game's best shooter.
And by at least one measure (points scored over average from three), it isn't even close.
Robinson is currently 243-of-543 (44.8 percent) from three. That's good for 729 points. The same number of attempts at the league-average percentage of 35.7 would yield around 582 points.
Robinson's shooting numbers are good for around 147 points over average, and the distance between that number and second-place JJ Redick is around the same as the distance between Redick and 19th-place Jayson Tatum.
With such prolific floor spacing coming from Robinson, Miami's All-Star slashers (Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo) have a much easier time finding driving lanes.
Milwaukee Bucks: George Hill
Contract: $9.6 million per year through 2021-22
Another one of the league's premier shooters, George Hill's 48.0 three-point percentage leads the NBA in 2019-20. (He's 17th in points over average from three due to relatively low volume).
On a team with ball-dominant wings and forwards like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, Hill's willingness to play off the ball is huge. It's something he's done for years, from his time with Paul George and Lance Stephenson on the Pacers to his one season with Gordon Hayward and the Utah Jazz.
On the other end, Hill's length (he has a 6'9" wingspan) makes him a worthy defender on most of the game's 1s and 2s.
Minnesota Timberwolves: James Johnson
Contract: $15.7 million per year through 2020-21 (last year is a player option)
James Johnson essentially earns this distinction by default.
The 2019-20 salaries of D'Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns and Evan Turner are all more than double the average salary for players who aren't on a first-round rookie-scale contract ($7.7 million).
Johnson's $15.3 million this season barely fits under that mark. And the next non-rookie deals on the books belong to Jake Layman ($3.6 million in 2019-20), Jarred Vanderbilt ($1.4 million) and Jaylen Nowell ($1.4 million).
But just because he's the default pick doesn't mean Johnson isn't a worthy one.
Since he essentially resurrected his career with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2013-14, Johnson has a top-60 box plus/minus. And, like others listed here, his versatility has been a calling card.
Over the same stretch, Johnson has averaged 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.4 steals per 75 possessions. DeMarcus Cousins and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the only players in the league who match or exceed all four marks.
New Orleans Pelicans: JJ Redick
Contract: $13.3 million per year through 2020-21
The setup here is similar to the Johnson slide, though not quite as obvious.
One could perhaps make an argument for Nicolo Melli, who only makes $3.9 million this season, but all the rookie contracts on this team made the field relatively small.
JJ Redick is a fine pick given his eight straight seasons with a positive net rating swing and his team-leading 2.9 threes per game.
Shooting is valuable in and of itself, and Redick has been providing that on manageable contracts for his entire career, especially since he joined the Clippers in 2013-14.
In that stretch, Redick's raw plus-minus is plus-2,594, a mark that ranks 10th in the NBA.
New York Knicks: Mitchell Robinson
Contract: $1.7 million per year through 2021-22 (last year is a team option)
There are plenty of reasons to go after the New York Knicks of the last two decades, but they deserve some love for making what appears to be a slam dunk of a second-round pick in 2018.
Taken 36th overall, Robinson only has two seasons of NBA basketball under his belt, but he's already first on the team in wins over replacement player over the last four seasons.
He's quickly shown Rudy Gobert-like potential as a rim-roller and shot-blocker. Over the course of his brief career, he's first in both blocks per 75 possessions (3.7) and field-goal percentage (72.0).
As he picks up some of the nuances of NBA schemes over the coming seasons, he'll become a unique force.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Nerlens Noel
Contract: $2.0 million per year through 2019-20
Nerlens Noel is hot on Robinson's heels on both those leaderboards. Since he joined the Oklahoma City Thunder prior to the 2018-19 season, he is tied for fourth in blocks per 75 possessions (3.1) and eighth in field-goal percentage (63.4).
It took him some time, but the No. 6 pick of the 2013 draft finally seems to have found his niche in the NBA. He's one of the better backup 5s in the game thanks to his ability to block shots and put pressure on the rim out of pick-and-rolls.
Like a handful of others featured here, Noel's next contract should be signed this offseason. It'll almost certainly pay him more than this one. But as the center market remains saturated, the Thunder—or some other team—could wind up with a top-tier reserve at a decent rate.
Orlando Magic: Michael Carter-Williams
Contract: $2.0 million per year through 2019-20
Another product of Sam Hinkie's "Process" with the Philadelphia 76ers, Michael Carter-Williams has also found his place in the NBA as a backup who thrives on defense.
This season, MCW has averaged 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.1 steals and 0.9 blocks per 75 possessions, and Orlando's net rating is 3.8 points per 100 possessions better when he's on the floor.
"[Carter-Williams] plays hard on defense, he competes and always gives it his all," All-Star center Nikola Vucevic told John Denton of the team's website. "He's a critical player to have on our team.’’
He hasn't quite figured out how to shoot (though it's not too late), but MCW is another example of a player who eventually realized what would make him stick in the NBA. In his case, it's length and that effort Vucevic described on defense.
Philadelphia 76ers: Shake Milton
Contract: $1.7 million per year through 2022-23 (last year is a team option)
Just before the season shut down in March, The Athletic's Derek Bodner made a case for moving Shake Milton into the Philadelphia 76ers' starting five:
"Milton has clearly done enough to get a crack at the fifth starter spot when [Joel] Embiid, [Ben] Simmons and Josh Richardson return. The last starting spot has shifted from Al Horford to Furkan Korkmaz to Glenn Robinson III, but those options have ranged from under-talented (Robinson III, Korkmaz) to poor fit (Horford), and none have elevated a starting five that has underperformed on offense. Based on what Milton has shown over the last six-plus weeks he's been in the regular rotation, the 23-year-old is the most realistic option who can combine fit and ability. Milton has earned the right to see what a healthy Philadelphia starting lineup looks like with him in it."
Over 32 appearances (16 starts) this season, the 54th overall pick in 2018 has averaged 9.5 points and 1.5 threes in 19.1 minutes per game while shooting 45.3 percent from downtown.
It's that last mark that might make him the most logical choice for the fifth starter's spot in Philly. The team is in dire need of shooting, especially when Embiid and Simmons are on the floor.
During the two seasons in which Redick was on the 76ers, they were plus-14.4 points per 100 possessions when the two stars shared the floor with the spacer. This season, the Embiid-Simmons duo is just plus-1.0.
Milton hasn't proved that he's a shooter on the same level as Redick, but he has proved himself worthy of a shot to get there.
If he works out in that role, Philadelphia is in the money. Milton's team-friendly contract runs through 2022-23.
Phoenix Suns: Aron Baynes
Contract: $5.5 million per year through 2019-20
Aron Baynes has spent much of his career as a bruising rebounder and screen-setter. But his evolution into a legitimate stretch 5 in 2019-20 may prolong the 33-year-old's career quite a bit longer.
After attempting just 89 threes over the course of his first seven seasons, Baynes is 59-of-168 (35.1 percent) from deep as a member of the Phoenix Suns.
That ability to pull big men out of the paint makes life easier for Baynes' teammates. When he's on the floor with Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio, Phoenix scores 118.8 points per 100 possessions (98th percentile) and outscores opponents by 7.5 points per 100 possessions (90th percentile).
Portland Trail Blazers: Jusuf Nurkic
Contract: $12 million per year through 2021-22
He has yet to play a game in 2019-20, but Jusuf Nurkic proved his value as a playmaking 5 alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum last season.
In that campaign, the Portland Trail Blazers were plus-10.1 points per 100 possessions when Nurkic shared the floor with Lillard and McCollum, compared to minus-5.1 when the two guards played without him.
Nikola Vucevic was the only player who matched or exceeded Nurkic's marks for points (20.7), rebounds (13.8) and assists (4.3) per 75 possessions.
Having a big who can operate as an offensive hub in the low or high post gives the two guards more opportunities to attack as off-ball threats. And that variance clearly helped Portland.
If he's all the way back by the time the season reboots, the Blazers could put a scare into the other teams chasing eighth place in the West.
Sacramento Kings: Richaun Holmes
Contract: $4.9 million per year through 2020-21
De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and maybe even Bogdan Bogdanovic get more buzz, but Richaun Holmes has been one of the most impactful players on the Sacramento Kings.
When he's on the floor, Sacramento is plus-1.0 points per 100 possessions, compared to minus-4.4 when he's off. That gives him a 5.4 net rating swing that ranks in the 83rd percentile leaguewide and leads all Kings with at least 500 minutes.
Like other bigs on this list, Holmes' ability to drag defenders into the lane as a roll man makes the game exponentially easier for everyone else on the floor. His steal and block totals have made him an impact player on the other end, as well.
If he can stay healthy next season, Sacramento could once again challenge for a playoff spot (at least more seriously than it has in 2019-20).
San Antonio Spurs: Patty Mills
Contract: $12.9 million per year through 2020-21
The San Antonio Spurs are another team put in an interesting position by the rules laid out in the intro. Among the rotation players whose contracts fall within those parameters, there isn't a single one with an above-average box plus/minus.
The only one who's close is longtime Spur Patty Mills (minus-0.1). And though this might read like another default selection, it's worth remembering that box plus/minus is just one measure. Plenty of other stats show the value Mills is providing to San Antonio.
This season, Mills is averaging career highs in points (11.7) and threes (2.3) in just 22.7 minutes per game while shooting 38.0 percent from deep.
That shooting ability has helped make him one of the team's most impactful players this season. He has a team-best plus-11.3 net rating swing that ranks in the 96th percentile leaguewide. When he's on the floor, the Spurs are plus-4.4 points per 100 possessions. They're minus-6.9 when he's off.
Toronto Raptors: Terence Davis
Contract: $1.2 million per year through 2020-21
The Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, have plenty of options for inclusion here. There are arguments to be made for Norman Powell or Fred VanVleet, but the six-figure salary of Terence Davis in 2019-20 puts him over the top, and it doesn't hurt that he's on board for just $1.5 million next season.
In 2019-20, Davis has averaged 7.7 points and 1.4 threes in just 17.0 minutes per game. And he's shooting 39.6 percent from deep.
On a team as good and deep as the Raptors, an undrafted rookie being in the rotation and having a plus-6.8 net rating swing is borderline shocking.
But this is starting to become a defining trait for this organization. Toronto may be the new standard when it comes to developing pretty much anyone who enters team facilities, and that sets the Raptors up for plenty of value contracts over the coming years.
Utah Jazz: Royce O'Neale
Contract: $7.5 million per year through 2023-24
Royce O'Neale is making $1.6 million for the Utah Jazz this season. A four-year, $36 million extension kicks in for him in 2020-21. But even if that salary were already in play, he might still be the pick here.
O'Neale is one of the game's top three-and-D wings. Over the last two seasons, he has a 2.1 defensive box plus/minus and a 38.8 three-point percentage.
Among players with at least 200 three-point attempts, no one in the league matches both marks during that stretch. If you drop the qualifier to 100 attempts, you only add Marc Gasol and Myles Turner, two defensive anchors around whom you can scheme an entire defense.
Getting that kind of production out of a wing is rare, and O'Neale's ability to reliably guard at least four positions and knock down open threes makes him an indispensable part of Utah's rotation. He's had a positive net rating swing in each of his three NBA seasons.
Washington Wizards: Thomas Bryant
Contract: $8.3 million per year through 2021-22
Thomas Bryant has yet to turn 23 years old. And despite appearing in just 38 games this season, he's third among Washington Wizards in 2019-20 wins over replacement, trailing only Bradley Beal and soon-to-be-free-agent Davis Bertans.
The young big has broken out as a thoroughly modern 5 for Washington this season, averaging 12.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in just 23.7 minutes per game. He's shooting 64.0 percent from two-point range and 40.7 percent from three, giving him a 63.5 effective field-goal percentage (fifth among the 312 players with 50-plus three-point attempts this season).
Bryant's combination of traditional big man skills (like rebounding and blocking shots) and a modern offensive repertoire makes him a likely candidate to hold down the center position in Washington for years to come.
If Beal and John Wall are both back and healthy next season, Bryant's shooting will give them plenty of extra space to operate inside.